The Other in Art

Thursday, 7 June 2007 11 responses

One day Monet was taking a walk with a child through a field, as no doubt he had done many times before. Suddenly he had one of those rare defining moments, which even for the atheistic artist must have seemed like an epiphany. On this afternoon the landscape was different, for there was a certain something, which demanded to be caught on canvas. The child was made to go back and get the paints, however as any artist will know, the light can change quickly and the essence of what is seen with it. Yet from that afternoon Monet would produce paintings of haystacks, which critics agree have an intangible sense of otherness.

Perhaps most of us have had such experiences for that brief moment in time when nature has seemed more intense and beautiful. We may wonder if it was the warm breeze on a twilight evening, the redolence of a meadow, and the sound of bees gathering pollen, or a heat haze over a field. An emotion is provoked within us, which seems to have a new depth, yet so very often the moment passes and we pass on our way untouched. Or was it something of nature opening itself to us, something in another dimension we cannot see.

It was in 1922 that a young physicist Kaluza teamed up with a mathematician Klein offering a theory, which should have changed the face of science. Kaluza himself had one of those rare moments when he realised that there is in fact another dimension behind the three known to our cognitive awareness. This theory was mostly ignored at the time, yet now physicists are indicating as many as 26 dimensions, which they think can be proven mathematically. The String Theories are far from complete and the math amazingly complex, yet they have now entered into the mainstream of science. Other physicists and mathematicians such as Roger Penrose and John Wheeler are trying to push science far beyond the limitations of human understanding where things are not computable. They say that nature and indeed the universe has more to do with human consciousness than was realised. Wheeler seems to be saying that matter only exists at all when observed. Clearly Wheeler has to be too down to earth than to mean the moon only exists because we can see it. Possibly he is struggling with an idea just outside the field of his own intellectual awareness, and it is presently defying expression.

No doubt the light, which is so very important to painters exists in another dimension. What we see is simply an interaction of light with matter. Sound is nothing but variations in air pressure striking our eardrums. Our sensory organs send messages to the brain, which then processes the information to make of it what it will, and we know much of that depends on our own cultural inheritance. Artists such as Monet and Manet were setting out to record nature and the world before them as they saw it. Often this would mean breaking free from the way almost everybody else saw things, as they strove to understand what really was before their eyes.

During the centuries before artists had tried to paint reality. Jan van Eyk in the early Quattro Centro had produced a hyper real style of painting, although his aim was clearly not to show the viewer any ordinary reality at all. He had statues of virgins, which would climb down from their niches and walk through an imaginary cathedral, and the faithful of those days had actually claimed to see such things. Importantly many other artists took up the technique in order to paint some resemblance of reality. Further on in the Renaissance artists had dropped the superstition and belief in hallucinations. The virgin who might be the artists own wife had much less of a stylised face. Perspective had been understood scientifically, and the way light works in shadows perceived.

The Impressionists were certainly aware of these things as they studied the old masters. However, their idea of reality was not necessarily in showing detail. It was their first sight of a scene, which mattered, the essence of what was before their eyes. They used the Renaissance discoveries, for example, of how it is simply not possible to cast a shadow by laying down a glaze of blue paint. In the shadows things are seen with softness, obscuration is at play, tonal variations are subtle, and colour works differently. I spite of the rapidly changing light they were able to use the advantage of tube paints to observe and paint directly from nature out of the studio. We may0the time of Impressionism is past and all done, but should we not learn the same lessons. Our eyes first look at a scene, on which every small detail capable of being resolved is transmitted to the visual cortex this incredible amount of information is processed by the brain in a fraction of a second, after which the first impression is given. We do not actually perceive all the detail, as our brain will have edited out the unnecessary. After this we usually select detail as a conscious function. We all walk along a certain street and see things according to our own mindset. A lawyer asking for the various witnesses to street crime for hard evidence would no doubt bear this out. However, we do now that our brains can be trained to see far more that is normally the case.

It would seem that our first lesson would be to be like Monet and take those rare moments of heightened awareness seriously, accepting them as nature’s invitation to learn how we should see. It is an exciting possibility, which can open up a whole new world. Yet how can we capture that otherness? If it is truly intangible, a reality working in other dimensions possibly affecting our own, is this possible? Water colourists especially will tell us that much of what they do is happy accident as the paint spreads over the paper of its own accord. Certainly the brushstrokes are not entirely controlled by the intellect and we usually find our greatest success by relaxing our minds and hands in a sense of play. The constant training of exercises will then pay off. The answer must be in loving and absorbing the essence of what we want to paint, then be passionate about the paint itself as it goes onto the canvas. This is not to say that we should like Pollock go into some kind of Dervish trance, or like Clifford Still take up New Age activities in order to paint. Still and Rothko were concerned with expressing their own inner states, not what they saw before their eyes. Figurative artists may well want to use the unconscious, but will need the mind to be boss.

Anybody who wants a case for the necessity of inner vision should think of Monet again. Practically blind, he produced what is arguably his most profound work. Telling a child to select his tube of colour he would then put paint on the canvas and so the masterpiece. And is it not the great artist the one who pursues his or her own vision regardless of the cost or difficulty.

Mike Fone

11 responses: to “ The Other in Art so far...

  • Kim 7.6.07

    I have often wondered what I would do without my sight ...and I do believe as you say in your article that there are other senses that can be's strange.... the other week (actually Mothers' Day) and I was having a facial and the beauty therapist put a really heavy eye mask on my first I could not 'see' anything ..only the blackest black...then my mind adjusted and I started to 'see' wonderful colourful patterns...I was using my mind's eye...and for the first time I seriously considered how I would create if I was blind...and I realised that I would create with my wouldn't matter if my creation could only be 'seen' by fact I do not believe that a creative work needs to exist in this exists in the other that you speak of which is our consciousness and hence it is on a higher plane...
    sorry for the ramble...but your article is very thought provoking

  • Anonymous 8.6.07

    I agree with kim, very fascinating read.

    The mere,meaning that in the grandest sense,concept of perception of color is something I could talk about for hours.

  • Anonymous 8.6.07

    Very inspiring Kim, great post!!!

  • Mikey 8.6.07

    Many thanks for posting this Kim, and for the kind comments Morriconei and Deborah.

    Talking of things existing on a higher plane or other dimensions, I have to wonder what happens when we create say Virtual Reality.


  • Kim 8.6.07

    hi Mikey
    my's an honour to have you here..
    as for virtual reality !!!...unbelievable but I came across a site on Blogging to Fame that has a link to a virtual society...I think it was called etopia...I 'll check that for sure..(and get back to you)..and there is a virtual place in cyberland that you can join....fancy that eh....

    hi Morriconei
    thanks for dropping in....sounds like Mikey's article could be the motivation for a good you have your thoughts written down? (hint hint)

    Hi Deborah (you busy bee)
    many thanks for the visit...and your comments....

  • Anonymous 9.6.07


    hmmmm, virtual reality, I guess you could call that the ultimate piece of art. Instead of working on a small piece of canvas, you would have an entire World to create. The possibilities would be endless.

    It certainly does sound interesting. I'm working on an Illustration Friday project now. However, I will definitely put something down soon.

  • Mikey 12.6.07

    morricone, my own problem with realism is how to introduce abstract concepts into the work without being either blindingly obvious or obscure. I do find it easy to put emotion in there.

    And Kim, if you are familar with scientists and mathmeticians like John Wheeler or Penrose, they claim that human consciousness affect reality and in a way determines it. There is also a thinking that human consciousness originates from outside the brain. Some poets and artists have thought that all along of course. We also have theories which suggest that reality is very much in another order David Bohm calls the Implicit Order, the visual, touchy feely stuff is only the surface of things. This all causes me to question the nature of reality. I am asking the question what affect does human consciousness and therefore Virtual Reality have on the Implicit Order?


  • Kim 13.6.07

    ah yes Mikey
    I am not familiar with those two people but I have long believed that the we as thinking, feeling individuals can move forward into a higher plane of consciousness...that we become one with the universe and although this 'being'/consciousness cannot be seen or heard it can be felt by certain individuals who are sensitive to these wavelengths or ripples of consciousness...therefore it does not surprise me that mathematicians and scientists are delving into these areas....Implicit Order sounds like another reality that I would like to read about....

  • Mikey 13.6.07

    Kim, you seem to making a reference to Hermes of ancient Egyptian fame, or possibly the Stoics. This thinking say we wouild do well to come to a higher level of consciousness and obey the higher law.

    Heres's the best article about Bohm and the Implicit Order I could find quickly.


  • Anonymous 13.6.07

    That's the great thing about the process. Subtlety would be even more key; perhaps having dark tones in your world, or the sound of a bird being replaced with the sound of an atom bomb.

    Of course it is your reality, so it can be mainly abstract, and the "normal" things could be the odd pieces.

    Just brainstorming.

  • Kim 13.6.07

    hi Mikey thanks for the link...will check out tomorrow..umm I mean later today...2am here in oz
    Hi Morriconei...interesting point...will think on this